Forging Central European Anti-TTIP alliance is our common goal

The past two weeks have seen another dam breaking in the Hungarian political sphere: even the pro-government media was forced to cover the free trade agreements to be signed with the USA (TTIP) and Canada (CETA). Ever since the issue was first raised, Jobbik has been opposing the negotiations on these treaties. We interviewed Márton Gyöngyösi, the patriotic party’s politician in charge of foreign affairs and deputy chairman of he Hungarian National Assembly’s Committee on Foreign Affairs and asked him about the current status of the process, the options available for Hungary as well as Jobbik’s tasks in this matter.

Hungary has seen an increasingly powerful resistance to TTIP. Symbolically enough, NGOs held a demonstration in Kossuth Square on the same day when the Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee was hearing US Ambassador Colleen Bell. You attended both events, let’s start with the second since the matter of the TTIP was also raised there.

Naturally, Ms Colleen Bell was aware that the TTIP was such an important, divisive issue which she needed to reflect on in her introductory thoughts. Notably enough, we could conduct a completely open discussion with her,  she clearly stated that the TTIP was not just a trade agreement, it was much more than that. So it was proven that this strategic partnership is about the colonization of Europe, replacing the EU’s precautionary principle of food safety by the USA’s much more lenient, risk-based approach.

Did you manage to present and clash your opinions with her?

Gábor Vona and I both did our best to present Jobbik’s as well as the Hungarian public’s position to the ambassador. However, since the only other opposition politician in the committee is a Socialist MP while the other members are all government MPs, Jobbik was the only one to voice critical opinions of the free trade agreement. By the way, Ms Bell tried to reassure us that the United States and its government were dedicated to transparency but that’s not what we experience in practice. We can only obtain information on major issues affecting our sovereignty via leaks by NGOs. I find it unacceptable that such negotiations, which will determine Trans-Atlantic relations and the course of civilizations for centuries, could be conducted behind closed doors in the Western world.

Of course, the content of the TTIP and the CETA are unacceptable, too; we must reject the Investor-State Dispute Settlement, the watering-down of various standards and the threat on our GMO-free status as well. We are aggravated to see that European countries are willing to sacrifice Europe’s agriculture for the potential market acquisition by automobile and other service industry companies, and give in to the lobbies that already seem to exercise the functions of elected governments in Brussels’ decision-making processes, contrary to the interests of national states.

 

You mentioned the absence of opposition voices, could you elaborate?

In relation with the TTIP, Hungary seems to be in a special situation where anti-TTIP resistance is defined by a generation gap. Hungary’s elite conducting the change of the political system in 1990, i.e., the establishment of various political parties which have all been building a neoliberal economy for 25-26 years, back the TTIP and kowtow to the pressure coming from the EU’s core states. They have clearly demonstrated that in Brussels several times. Criticism of the negotiations is only expressed in Hungary by the parties of the 21st century, Jobbik and LMP. Notably, it was Colleen Bell who thanked Viktor Orbán and Péter Szijjártó for helping in the conclusion of the Trans-Atlantic treaty. That’s why the government must be held under pressure from all sides.

Is this also the reason why of all Hungarian Parliamentary parties, only Jobbik and LMP were represented in the civil demonstration in Kossuth Square?

But this fault line only appears in Hungary. In Austria, for example, the Socialist Party is the most fervent critic of the trade agreement and there is an anti-TTIP social consensus, too. In Jobbik’s view, this contract must be rejected on the grounds of national security, consumer protection and food safety as well. However, the most important issue is sovereignty: this strategic partnership would finally eliminate whatever is left of the EU’s independence. And we have already experienced in connection with the various crises that the EU hardly has any independence left in foreign policy issues. If you want to know Brussels’ position on Ukraine, you need to ask Washington. After signing the TTIP, this rein on Europe’s neck would be even tighter.

In spite of that, or perhaps for the same reason, the forming resistance against the free trade agreements are spearheaded by NGOs rather than political parties. How can this shape the EU’s political establishment?

It’s a very important observation and it clearly shows what kind of new movements we experience in our continent and in our world. The enemy no longer attacks openly; we are not in the age of heroes any more when we fought our battles face to face. Propaganda, media, perception management, intelligence services; these are the fields where battles are won or lost. The conventional political sphere is helpless against the so-called soft power, that’s why the society must remain vigilant. It is vital to sustain the interest of the people. However, politicians can only have partial roles in that; we can throw a wrench in the works of the decision-making mechanism on occasion but there’s not much else we can do. There is a Parliamentary sphere, but it is not the only means to protect our civilization. It is also important to put our potential ideological differences aside in this struggle. You must see that neither LMP nor Jobbik is enough in such a major issue. In fact, even the Hungarian government is unable to enforce our national interest.

 

You are saying that the Hungarian government is not enough for such resistance, and you are probably right. Where can you find allies then?

First of all, we must convince Orbán’s government to change its mind because it does wage a rhetorical war of independence but when it comes to real decisions, it always betrays our national interests. Apart from the United Kingdom, each country (Hungary included) has NGOs and political parties criticizing the TTIP so we can consider them as potential allies. In Germany for example, there is AfD, and tens of thousands of citizens demonstrate in the streets against the free trade agreements, in spite of all the efforts made by the pro-establishment media. In the meantime, anti-TTIP voices have already appeared in governmental levels in France. Jobbik considers its task to contact these political parties and movements, and stir them up. Recently I have been to Poland attending a conference organized by our brother party Ruch Narodowy for NGOs so that they could show citizens the risks posed by the TTIP. By the way, the issue of the trade agreements is not in the forefront of public discourse in Poland yet, that’s why they asked us to help them.

It is important to narrow the field geographically as well. In my view, forging a Central European anti-TTIP alliance is of key importance, with the Croatian, Austrian, Slovakian, Polish, Czech and German lines in focus. If it comes to that, we could organize an international conference for politicians here in Budapest.

We tend to overlook the Canada-EU free trade agreement, the text of which has already been approved by the negotiators.

This summer, there will be a great confrontation about the CETA unless we can prevent Brussels from reaching over the heads of national governments and giving its preliminary approval to the treaty in an undemocratic way. Otherwise the TTIP will almost be devoid of purpose. I hope that the European public could be stirred up so that they could stop the ratification process at this stage. It would mean such a negligence of national sovereignty that has been unheard of. If they still do it, it could instigate a radical wave of resistance by the societies.

Which would in turn give an opportunity to rearrange political establishments.

Yes, but we don’t want to pay that price. It would trigger irreversible and unpredictable processes  if European citizens finally lost all their confidence in their leaders. We had better stop the negotiations before that.

 

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